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Zakayev saved by Mr Y



NTV image




: Ksenia Solyanskaya  NTV image

The trial of Akhmed Zakayev, aide to the Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, resumed in the Bow Street magistrates court in central London on Monday and is likely to last at least several weeks more. Russia has demanded Britain extradite the rebel envoy on over a dozen charges ranging from murder to planning terrorist attacks.


Zakayevs lawyers claim that if extradited to Russia, their client would not get a fair trial. On Monday it was announced that the key witness in Zakayevs case, Orthodox priest Rev. Filipp, is to be summoned to London shortly. Russian prosecutors allege that back in 1996 Akhmed Zakayev organized the priests abduction.

Rev. Filipp (Sergei Zhigulin) is expected in London in a few weeks. In 1996 he was abducted by the Chechen rebels with whom he was negotiating the release of hostages, and spent 5 months in captivity. However, Akhmed Zakayevs name surfaced in connection with Zhigulins abduction only several years afterwards.

In autumn last year during questioning at the Russian Prosecutor Generals Office the priest testified that Zakayev had been informed of his abduction. In other words, he could have been behind it. Later, however, in his interviews to several leading papers Rev. Filipp retracted his earlier testimony.

In particular, on November 19 last year Izvestia published a report entitled, The shadow of Rev. Filipp: The main witness in Zakayevs case refutes his testimony. The authors of the article stated that in Rev. Filipps words, he could not confirm that he was captured namely by Akhmed Zakayev and his men.

According to the Izvestia report, Rev. Filipp denounced allegations that he had testified against Zakayev as ''implicating the Church in politics''. ''I understand the investigators, they have to save their esprit de corps, but why are they doing it with the help of a cassock?'' the priest wondered.

The Prosecutor Generals Office responded to the publication almost immediately. ''We view such articles as fakes, apparently made to order,'' the prosecutors spokesman Leonid Troshin told Interfax. In comments for Gazeta.Ru Troshin noted that ''the printed fake is not just an unfortunate mistake, but a cold-blooded attempt to impede the process of Zakayevs extradition''.

Zakayev was arrested in December last year at Heathrow airport after arriving from Denmark, where the envoy spent several weeks in custody, while Copenhagen studied the evidence of his alleged crimes presented by Russian prosecutors. The Danes eventually freed the Chechen, explaining their refusal to extradite him due to the fact that the key witness in the case, Rev. Filipp, had only been questioned six years after his release from captivity.

Several hours after his arrest in London Zakayev was freed on bail secured, among others, by the British actress and human rights activist Vanessa Redgrave.

At the Monday hearing the priests testimony was once again called into question, Alexander Goldfarb, director of the Foundation for Democratic Freedoms, which is financing Zakayevs defence, told Gazeta.Ru.

During a cross-examination by British prosecutors, the human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov told the court he doubts the impartiality of Rev. Filipp. Kovalyov recounted that he had visited the priest soon after his release at the Central Clinical Hospital where he was undergoing medical treatment, and as they strolled around the hospital building, the deputy questioned him in detail about everything that had happened to him in captivity.

According to the human rights activist, Rev. Filipp mentioned nothing of what he told the prosecutors six years later and which was included in the case file. Kovalyov believes the priest had some special relationship with the authorities, which makes him doubt Rev. Fillips impartiality.

Firstly, Rev. Filipp was the only hostage, who was admitted to Russias best medical facility, the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow, where top ranking state officials receive medical treatment. Secondly, soon afterwards he had a meeting with Sergei Stepashin, who by that time had left the post of FSB director.

According to Goldfarb, the meeting between Zakayev and the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev at Moscows Sheremetievo-II airport in 2001 was looked at separately by the court. This is one of the defences most important arguments, since by the time the meeting took place the Chechen envoy had already been put on the international wanted list.

A week after Russia notified Interpol and declared the worldwide search for Zakayev, the Kremlins aide for Chechen affairs Sergei Yastrzhembsky appeared on Russian television and said that Russian authorities had no grievances against Zakayev.

In court the presidential aide, whose last name proved rather difficult for the Britons to pronounce, was referred to as Mr. Y. The prosecutors suggested that the Russian Prosecutor Generals Office failed to arrest the Chechen envoy because it knew nothing of the Sheremetievo-II talks.

To this Thomas de Waal, a journalist and author, speaking for Zakayevs defence, claimed that to learn of those talks all one had to do was switch on the TV.

Witnesses also told the court that, if extradited, Akhmed Zakayev would not get a fair trial. In response to that the Prosecutor Generals Office presented the results of the post mortem examination of the bodies of the Chechen field commanders Salman Raduyev and Turpal-Ali Atgeriyev, who died in Russian prisons.

According to the experts, neither of the Chechens died a violent death. The prosecutors suggested that the witnesses retract their testimonies, but they refused. Speaking of another field commander, Ruslan Alikhadzhiyev, who disappeared after arrest, Kovalyov assured the court that Alikhadzhiyev was no longer among the living.

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